“Merrily, Merrily” by Lauren Becker

We went to the lake to rid ourselves of our pasts. The things that would not leave us, that plagued us with shame, anger, regret. The things that clung to us like cats with too-long claws, tangling in our sweaters, pulling threads that could unravel the whole.

We had secrets. Some of the paper boats filled with words we could not say, even to each other. I cannot guess theirs. I cannot tell mine. They are gone. Burned on paper floated on Lake Merritt.

We laughed when we planned it. We would go for drinks after with our new selves. We would enter the bar unrecognizable.

Kara found the ritual in a book her Wiccan roommate had checked out from the library. We cut white paper in squares and handwrote “I release” – the things we would release. That water and fire would take. We folded the paper into buoyant vessels.

Deb floated five, Kara eight. I floated 11. Two held almost everything. I set one of these on fire first, pushing it hard enough that the flame disappeared for a second. It came back, small, then bigger. I breathed again.

We passed the single lighter, the tip of my thumb tender and seared when I finished with my brigade of more-troubled past. There was nothing more to the ritual but silence. And watching until the flames were gone.

One of Deb’s ran up against something in the water. It was too dark to see what it was. Paper or cloth, it picked up the flame. We didn’t speak. I saw tears on Deb’s face. Likely, she saw mine.

The flame didn’t catch. We stayed crouched in the grass, urgent, until the final boat went dark. We stood, knees cracking, and walked together to the parking lot. We got into our cars. Deb went first. A minute or two later, Kara pulled away. I waited for her lights to disappear. Then, it was time for me to go.

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